Marathon recovery–don’t get fooled

Lack of soreness does not mean your legs are recovered

Lack of soreness does not mean your legs are recovered

I’m about 10 days post-marathon and my legs have lost all their soreness. That does not, however, mean that they are recovered, which is the point of this post. If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard a marathoner–especially a new marathoner–declare one week later that they are recovered, only to see them get injured a few weeks later, well…

Marathon recovery can be extremely deceiving. Absence of soreness is good, of course, and means that you can resume  some light, shorter running. But it doesn’t mean that you are ready to jump back in to full on training. It’s such an easy thing to do. Believe me, I know. You come back from a great race and you just can’t wait to get back out there. Or you come back from a bad marathon and you want redemption, so you start training your brains out.

I’ve done both: After my very first marathon, where I was thrilled with my 3:39, I was back out two days later running too fast and too far. But I was on a high. End result? A tibial stress fracture about six weeks later. Then last year, after the hot Boston and my slow time, I felt like I hadn’t even run a marathon. So back out I went and the end result was overtraining and an awful half marathon five weeks later. (You’d think I’d know better!). So I get it.

These days, my approach is more along the lines of less is more in the first few weeks after a marathon. Last week my mileage totaled 12 extremely easy miles, a couple of swims and extra rest. This week, my long run on Saturday will be back up to a 10, but everything else for the most part is easy and short. I will do some shorter, quick intervals on Wednesday just to get the legs back into the habit of turning over, but nothing major at all.

One thing that I think helps ensure you stay on the easier side of things is not scheduling any races too soon after the marathon. This has become my practice and it keeps me in check from doing too much, too soon.

Are there exceptions to this advice, people who recovery quickly and can do a bit more than the rest of us post-marathon? Of course. But keep in mind, they are the exceptions. For most of the rest of us, complete recovery from a marathon can take three and even four weeks. So do yourself a favor, assume you are not an exception, and take it easy–easier than you want–post-marathon.

Have you ever blown your marathon recovery? 

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  1. says

    With over 60 marathon and 15+ other race over that distance I know how my body reacts, and I think that is the key. You have to learn what works for your body and always be careful.
    The more a race (not only a marathon) takes from you the more you need to put back.
    Coach Dion recently posted..SMOKINGMy Profile

  2. says

    if i’d ever run a marathon then i could answer this question 😉 ha! i usually take it pretty easy after a half marathon though i know you can’t really compare the two distances. i feel like since i’ve trained enough my body’s not super exhausted after a half… or maybe i’m not running hard enough?? oh dear!
    Linz @ Itz Linz recently posted..# 99 WORKOUTMy Profile

  3. Christy says

    I have such a hard time with that, I just want to get back to running! I made myself run trails yesterday just so I would keep the pace under control and not try to go to fast. I did a half on the 16th, thought I felt recovered and ran some hills a week later… Quads were sore again just like after the half. So keeping this week easy again.

  4. says

    Since I’ve only run 3 marathons and my recovery has been SO different every time I don’t have a ton to add to this. My first marathon I ran like the cops were chasing me and I was already injured- I basically took 3 weeks off, UGH! My second was so hilly that I thought it was about 3 weeks before I felt my legs getting sharp again. Hyannis was a different story- I was in bad shape for about 3 days afterward but did some light x-training and a week of super easy running and then i was good to go- feeling better than ever.

  5. says

    Recovery after my marathon was the toughest thing for me. I took the entire week off after from running. Then slowly got back into it. It was so tough because even though I felt great, once I started running I could still feel that I was sluggish and tired. It was frustrating since I have never dealt with such a long recovery before. But the weeks flew by and soon i was back to normal.
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  6. says

    Great post and very timely for me. I am 3 weeks out from the Little Rock Marathon and 3 weeks from yesterday is Boston. I agree that it can be VERY tempting to jump back into things, especially if you already have a race lined up (like I have Boston). I made myself take a full week off and when I started back the second week it was all low mileage and slow. It was hard at first not comparing myself to other runners on Daily Mile who were also training for Boston. I had to tell myself several times that the best thing I could do to help my Boston performance was to take it slow and ease back into it. I feel like I am getting closer to being recovered but I’m not fully there. I did a little speed work last week and I could tell I’m not back.

  7. says

    This is great. And you’re right- if you race well, you want more. If you race poorly, you want to prove you can do better!
    We signed up for the Disney marathon (January) before we did our first Ironman (AZ at the end of November). Turns out I couldn’t even walk properly for a couple weeks, nonetheless run, due to serious nerve pain. I think I was able to run for four weeks before the marathon. It was a tough go!
    Abby @ Change of Pace recently posted..Thailand highlights – BangkokMy Profile

  8. says

    this is a lesson that most of us have learned the hard way. for me it was after the chicago marathon in 2007 when it was cancelled mid-way through due to extreme conditions and they completely ran out of water in the heat. like you, i didn’t feel like i ran a marathon because i ran only about 10 miles before calling it quits. the next day i signed up for boston 2008 and just continued my training without any downtime between cycles. yikes, that did not end well and i spent most of 2008 not being able to run at all. it stunk, but i think that it was a good lesson for me and made me into a smarter runner.
    Britt @ Chicago Runner Girl recently posted..The Chitown HalfMy Profile

  9. says

    Um…yes. :-)
    After my first marathon I was in the high of getting a BQ and ended up running a half marathon 6 days later. The result? Really bad PF, no running for almost 2 months. Ooops. Now I take two full weeks off. The first week I do nothing but stretch. The second week I incorporate some spinning, but no running until after 14 days. Then it is really easy running.
    Tasha @ Healthy Diva recently posted..Week 11: Treadmill INSANITYMy Profile

  10. says

    Great post, and it is so true how recovery can be deceiving.

    After my first marathon, I thought I was good to go a few days later for a short easy run, only to find that running hurt…I spent 8 weeks in physical therapy for a seriously damaged IT band.

    After #2 I was so mad (missed my goal by a minute) and it was a horrible race for me (everything about it…), so I went home that night and registered for a marathon. #3 came 8 weeks later. I ended up PR’ing but afterwards I was mentally and physically drained. I wasn’t conditioned enough to handle them so close like that. Now I think I could handle that better, but at the time It was a stupid move.

    Since then I have been really good about recovering and taking time after my races. #5 is coming up in May and I pretty much have a full schedule after it (training for a half-iron in July) but the good news is that will allow me to cross train a lot more and reduce injury risk
    Laura recently posted..Around the Bay 30kMy Profile

  11. says

    This is good food for thought, but I wonder about a half marathon. Does the same apply? I’m sure everyone is different, but I’m doing my first half in June and I’d like to do some shorter races right afterward (within a couple weeks). I’m I a glutton for punishment by doing that?

  12. says

    Great post. This happened to me after my last marathon. Jumped back in way to soon…Even ran a fast 5k five days later where I won 3rd place. Great right? Nope… got hurt and it luckily it did not cost me my Boston this year.

    This is real good advise!!
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  13. says

    Such good advice. It’s so easy after a race to ride the high and want to get right back into it (fighting that urge right now). I use the week after a race as an excuse to do things I don’t have much time to do normally because I run so much like yoga, walking my dog (although he’d rather run too), and some easy bike rides. I find it helps me physically and mentally recover so I’m ready to get back into training when I am recovered.
    Amanda recently posted..Mercer Island Half Marathon RecapMy Profile

  14. says

    I concur, recovery from something hard like your last marathon takes time. I think you can run an easy marathon and not stress the body as much and get back out there sooner but if you race 26 miles, need a good solid two weeks of adequate recovery.

    I’m glad to hear you’re feeling better and the soreness is gone. That’s always a step in the right direction :).

    Will you still be working with your coach post marathon?
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  15. says

    I can’t recommend enough the value of seeing a good sports massage therapist (who knows your body well) after a long (or hard) race. After my marathon, my masseuse was able to tell me exactly where the areas were that needed particular rest, to help work toxins out of blocked up areas, and recommend the best exercises to do while holding off from running. Two weeks ago, after a particularly swift HM, I saw her (as part of preparing for another HM only six days later), and she identified a small muscle tear in my calf that I wasn’t even aware of. She worked oxygen into it, gave me recommendations toward how to baby it before the next race, and I was READY when that day came.

    Super rest recommendations – I’m terrible at rest… thank goodness for yoga.
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  16. says

    Awesome advice. Marathon training wipes me out. I spend countless hours away from family and friends working toward this goal! After completing the race, I take a lot of time off (from serious running) and I wait until I WANT to be back out there. I don’t want the continuous training to take away what I fell in love with in the first place, the simplicity of being on the road!
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  17. says

    Great post! I am SO glad that I had the foresight to NOT schedule any races after my most recent marathon. Turns out the marathon itself pushed me into “injured” status anyway. All of my races this spring are purely for fun, and I’ll get back to the big goals this fall. :)
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  18. says

    I think it depends on how hard you run the marathon and that everyone is different. If a runner is injury prone, long recovery is a must.

    There are advocates for running a few miles the evening after you finish to loosen up the legs. That I could never do but, I think getting out on the road a few days after for a couple of easy miles is good.

    Also, there are a lot of people, myself included who enjoy using all those weeks of training for a couple of marathons a few weeks apart. With careful training, paying attention to your body, taking recovery days, easy days, not trying to push too hard in training but save it for the race, the body will bounce back without injury.
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  19. says

    I read somewhere that scientists had done muscle biopsies on athletes after running a marathon. The results showed that there was still cellular damage evident up to 8 weeks after their event. It’s so important to take that post-marathon time as seriously as the pre-marathon training.
    Char recently posted..Still LearningMy Profile

  20. says

    I always love reading your words of wisdom. I somehow am thinking that right now a lot of folks are on “marathon hyper-drive”? Probably partially fueled by the huge increase in the whole industry of the hyped up events and “fun” parts. And social media I’m sure influences decisions of those to partake in “too much too soon” :) I’m sticking to my theory of one in the Spring and one in the Fall at most. Beyond that, the seasons where I live don’t make for good training for other times :/ Two a year is more than enough for me!
    Christina recently posted..I am a Mother RunnerMy Profile

  21. says

    I’m with Coach Dion. I think that everyone needs to be careful, but that can differ depending on who you are. Running Times suggested taking it easy for as many days as there were miles in your race. Not that you shouldn’t run, but they should be easy runs, with no speed work or super long distances. For me, I often race a month or so after a marathon, so I do a short reverse taper, one high mileage week and then a short taper for my next race. So far, it’s worked but maybe I have just been lucky.
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  22. says

    The last time I ran a marathon, I blew the marathon before I had a chance to blow the recovery. As a result, my recovery lasted WAYYY longer than I wanted it too. this is great advice escpecially for those of us that are so Type A that recovery seems optional

    I love your perspective on all things running!
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  23. says

    Just about every time. It’s such a sucky lesson to learn and after each one say I knew better. This last marathon I ran a Ragnar relay a week later but gave myself only 11 miles. I raced those miles as much as I could though (not smart, trust me). I then scheduled foot surgery so I couldn’t run for 2 weeks. I do have a hamstring issue but it’s been ongoing before the marathon but I can’t help wonder I wonder if racing those 11 miles contributed.

  24. says

    Marathons can take much more out of you that it seems at first. Generally the fitter you are the faster you recover but we are all different and there are always the exceptional people that can recover fast and run another one in only a week or two. I normally do a half marathon one to two months after a full one with training getting progressively harder as the half distance approaches.
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